ROCHELLE — Every time Ralf Herrera talks to his supplier, he’s told the end of higher meat prices won’t be soon.
The owner of Ralfie’s BBQ and Catering saw high prices on pork and chicken for his business early in the pandemic last year before they went back down. Those prices have increased again, pork going up $1 per pound and chicken up $1.50.
“It’s getting tough,” Herrera said. “I can’t believe something was $1 a pound and now it’s over $2. I think for my supplier it’s due to short staff and fuel going up. It’s just weird that we’re still having issues now. It’s just driving my prices up more.”
Herrera said staffing issues are widespread in the food industry right now. Some restaurants can only do takeout due to staffing. High fuel prices have added to expenses.
Herrera’s supplier has been cut down from three to two shifts. Higher prices will be seen until that ends.
Weddings and graduation parties Herrera plans to cater this summer were already quoted at a lower rate when meat was cheaper.
“That was when our meat was reasonable,” Herrera said. “The next people we book will see an increase. It’s tough. But once you quote them, it’s not good business to go back on that. They’ve already paid us. Say we planned to make a 30 percent profit, now it’s 25 percent. We have to absorb that.”
The Ogle County Health Department currently requires caterers to do a served buffet due to COVID-19 safety. People are served at every station to keep them from touching things. That has also raised payroll costs.
New Headon’s Fine Meats Owner Mark Hibshman has entered the industry at an unprecedented time. He and his son, Justin, purchased the business from Lyle Headon last month, who owned it for 50 years.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge,” Hibshman said. “We watch the ag report each week to see what’s coming. I know next week filet will go up again. We’re navigating through it and Lyle is helping. Lyle’s been guiding me. It’s a big help.”
Since March 25, filet mignon has gone up $7.08 a pound. Ribeye is up $3.90 a pound. Brisket is up $3.10 a pound.
Like Herrera, Hibshman has also been told high prices are due to a lack of labor force in meat packaging plants. Restaurants are also opening back up after COVID-19 and causing more demand for higher-quality cuts of meat.
Headon’s has raised prices due to the recent spikes.
“We had two options, buy lower quality meats or raise prices,” Hibshman said. “We continue to buy the best certified angus beef we can. People know the quality will be good. We’ve tried to absorb some of the cost and not pass it on to the consumer. But we don’t know how long we’ll be able to do that.”
Hibshman has been told the high prices could continue for a few months. He said demand for Headon’s products has stayed the same, but now it’s harder to get that inventory to sell.
Customers come into the Headon’s shop and ask why prices are high. Hibshman said butchers will also give customers a heads up about the higher prices before they get to the cash register.
“Fortunately our customers understand, they watch the news,” Hibshman said. “But it’s never good to take over and raise prices. Fortunately, what we’ve found is people come in looking to buy a quality product and still will pay for it.”